Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can seniors with disabilities safely fly "alone"?


How do airlines handle the travel of seniors with disabilities, including “cognitive disabilities”?

Southwest Airlines has a typical policy, stated here.

Airlines will allow people who bring seniors to airports to get “Escort passes” to accompany the customer all the way through boarding (including going through security at many airports). Most airlines say that they cannot attend to personal needs once the customer is on the aircraft. For example, the customer should be able to comply with seat belt regulations and be able to walk unaided in the cabin to the lavatory. In many cases, flights with stops or especially with connections should be avoided. Airlines do offer preboarding and wheelchair service. Generally they will not verify the identity of people meeting the customer on the other end.

Some literature on the web says that the simulated higher altitude is bad for heart patients or patients with early dementia, but doctors seem to permit it.

But an article by Ed Perkins discusses an Adult Assistance Program at Northwest Airlines, that offers complete supervision for an extra $50 each way (link here). This sounds like a good idea for all airlines.

It is probably surprising for many people to learn that people with considerable cognitive disability, as measured by tests, are allowed to fly as well as to drive (previous post, Aug. 17, 2009). But a physician, and a professional who has worked with the patient, should be consulted for permission. Lists of symptoms for various stages listed in diagnostic criteria often don't match the reality of the individual person.

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